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Supervisors pull back storm water pollution fee proposal

March 12, 2013 |  4:47 pm

Faced by widespread public opposition, Los Angeles County supervisors sent a proposed parcel fee to combat storm water pollution back to the drawing board.

The proposed fee would be levied on all property owners within the county's flood control district, raising an estimated $290 million a year to help cities and the county deal with widespread water quality issues stemming from polluted storm water and urban runoff and the need to comply with new state regulations.

The supervisors had contemplated putting the fee on a mail-only ballot to the affected property owners. They rejected that notion in a vote Tuesday, while leaving the possibility open for a reworked measure to be placed on the ballot in a general election in June or in November 2014.

Unlike the mail-only vote, which would have required a simple majority, a vote in the general election would require a two-thirds majority to pass.

The board first considered the proposal in January but deferred a vote after a contentious hearing at which nearly 200 people spoke. Although Tuesday's hearing was somewhat more sparsely attended, it still lasted more than three hours.

Environmental groups, unions interested in the possibility of green jobs from infrastructure projects, and some city officials spoke in favor of the measure and urged the supervisors to either go ahead with a mail ballot or set a certain date for an election in 2014, as Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky had proposed.

"We need a date for this to come back before you, so the public has assurance it isn't just getting shelved," Kirsten James, water quality director for nonprofit Heal the Bay, told the board.

A number of regional water quality board members also appeared to urge the supervisors to move forward with the measure, saying the funding would be important to allow the county and cities to comply with the newly updated requirements of their municipal storm water permits.

Supervisors Don Knabe and Gloria Molina had sought to reject the proposal in its current form and look into bringing it back at some future date in a general election, but did not specify when. The supervisors said the fee should come with a sunset date and a specific list of projects, as well as a more substantial credit than now proposed for property owners who have already invested in storm water capture and treatment.

Business groups -- which maintain that many of their members already pay substantial sums to remediate run-off -- and school districts and other entities concerned about the hit to their budget, opposed the fee, and many of them voiced support for Knabe and Molina's proposal.

Heidi Mather, whose company recently built a 244-unit apartment complex in Woodland Hills, said the firm had paid $500,000 for stormwater mitigation measures in order to get building permits.

"We've already paid this fee -- in fact, that would be over 50 years of paying this fee," she said.

The supervisors passed Knabe and Molina's proposal, but agreed to set a non-binding goal of having a measure ready for the ballot in 2014. They requested quarterly progress reports from the staff.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich cast the one dissenting vote, complaining that the stormwater regulations were an unfunded mandate from the state and federal government.

"This is a state responsibility, and the state should be providing 100% of the costs," he said.

Antonovich's office also picked up the tab to bus residents from Santa Clarita to downtown Los Angeles to register their disapproval at the hearing.

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-- Abby Sewell at the county Hall of Administration

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